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Posted on August 21st, 2009 – 12:40 PM
By John Ewoldt Reports of my slacking off (or dismissal) have been greatly exaggerated.

A back to school sale not to miss

Posted on July 21st, 2009 – 12:45 PM
By John Ewoldt

The Sample It sample sale (Days Inn, 7851 Normandale Blvd., Bloomington) starts today and runs from 2-8 p.m., and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. It’s a great sale for fans of Billabong, Hurley, Volcom and Quiksilver. All are new fall styles but at about half the price. Some are priced even less than wholesale. The downside is the size range. You’re in luck if you’re a men’s or women’s medium or large. Otherwise, too bad. Deals include hoodie sweatshirts for men and women ($20 to $35), Billabong backpacks $15 to $35, T-shirts $8 to $15, women’s sweaters, jackets and tops $15 to $45 and Sanuk flip-flops and shoes for men and women from $5 to $24. One great deal is a rack of Billie Girl (Billabong sizes 5 and 8 only) marked half of the wholesale price. On Thursday, everything is discounted an additional 25 percent.

Best bets for weekend deals

Posted on July 17th, 2009 – 10:09 AM
By John Ewoldt

Support the local airline, Sun Country, and fly cheaply too. If you book a trip between now and Tuesday for travel by October 14 (except Anchorage–travel by Sept. 10), fares are $59 each way (Branson), $84 (Dallas), $99 (LA, NYC, SF), $109 (Boston, Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, Seattle, DC), $129 (San Diego) and $199 (Anchorage). One tip for fliers who like to upgrade to first class, go early to the airport. Pay only an extra $99 (one-way) if you upgrade at the service counter. That’s a slightly better deal than the $249 fares (one way) that Sun Country specials on first class flights booked to Vegas, LA, NYC, SF and Seattle during the sale. The downside is that the first class seats may be sold out by the time you get to the service counter.

Grethen House  women’s boutique in Minneapolis starts its 70 percent off all spring/summer merchandise sale today. The sale on high-end designer merch continues through Saturday. Those in the know who wait for the 90 percent off sale, that happens Aug. 21-22 at the outlet, GH2.

Nordstrom’s anniversary sale is in progress through Aug. 2. It’s a cool way to save 30 percent on new fall fashions before the season starts–although today’s weather feels like fall. I asked one Nordstrom employee to scout some deals for us: Selected True Religion jeans for men and women, Hobo International handbags (Nordstrom exclusive), both brand new for fall and on sale to boot. If you prefer to shop online, you can get free shipping on orders over $200. Also, you can request to have your order picked up in the Mall of America store.

Half-Price Books’ tent sale at its Highland Park St. Paul location continues through Sunday. Books, CDs and DVDs are $3 or less. The Highland fest is also happening this weekend, so be prepared for parking issues.

Needlework Unlimited (4420 Drew Av. S., Minneapolis, 612-925-2454) timed its sweater sale perfectly. On a cool weekend, most of the handknit adult sweater samples are $20 to $40, except for the Dale of Norway sweaters at $90 (reg. $200 to $250). Knitting yarn is 50 percent off during the sale Fri-Sunday. Additional markdowns Sunday.

Free eyeglasses for kids (with exam)

Posted on July 16th, 2009 – 10:57 AM
By John Ewoldt

Dealspotter Kiera Sosinski turned in a great back-to-school deal for kids’ eyeglasses. Eye 35 Eyecare in Lakeville is offers free eyeglass frames and lenses for kids ages 12 and under with the purchase of an eye exam ($95). You can use insurance to pay for the exam and still get the free complete set of glasses. Eye 35 has more than 80 frames choices for kids. Transitions or non-glare lenses are extra. Ask for Dr. Fontana or Dr. Bell.

Good deals uncovered in Albertville

Posted on July 15th, 2009 – 3:52 PM
By John Ewoldt

In Albertville Premium Outlets yesterday, I went to my usual favorites and uncovered a few unadvertised deals. At the Bose store (763-497-6990), the prices on reconditioned Wave radios and CD changers are lower than I’ve seen ever them. A Wave radio/CD player is $500 new. The reconditioned models normally sell for $450, but they’re currently priced at $420. The Acoustic Wave with the changer is normally $1,200 reconditioned ($1,400 new) and it’s now marked down to $1,000. Ipod users should consider the Wave radio for $300 ($350 new) and then get the iPod connect kit for $100 instead of the CD changer. A salesperson expected the prices to last into mid-August.

The Le Creuset outlet moved from the Promenade to main Plaza. As I was walking out the door empty-handed, I was told about getting 40 percent off any one item. The offer is good for several weeks. Just ask for the discount in the store but call (763-497-0664) to verify it’s still available. The deal is being offered while customers discover the new location, according to one employee. It’s a unprecedented deal if you like the Le Creuset brand.

Villeroy & Boch (763-494-9008) is closing its doors Sept. 26. Everything including clearance is discounted 25 percent. I asked if the flatware would take additional markdowns and was told that it would not, since it will be shipped back to the factory. Some of the dinnerware patterns seem a bit frou frou, but the quality of everything in the V&B line is very high.  

Price comparison at Save-A-Lot, Aldi and Wal-Mart

Posted on July 14th, 2009 – 9:25 AM
By John Ewoldt

In today’s Dollars & Sense column I wrote about Save-A-Lot, a Supervalu-owned grocery store similar to Aldi. It’s a smallish store selling mostly private labels with a few brand names thrown in. Although Save-A-Lot’s prices aren’t as cheap as Aldi, they’re close. In Litchfield, Minn., Save-A-Lot beat even Wal-Mart in my admittedly small price comparison of private label items (and one brand name). I did not taste test the various store brands, but consumers should know that all stores usually guarantee private label brands. Ask for a refund or replacement if you’re not satisfied with any store brand. (I have found that a receipt is rarely required since a store knows its own brand couldn’t have been purchased from a competitor.) Prices were checked on July 2 at the Save-A-Lot and Wal-Mart stores in Litchfield and Aldi on E. Lake Street in Minneapolis.


SAL: 50 cents (on sale)

Wal-Mart: 88 cents

Aldi: 69 cents

BANANAS (3 lbs.)

SAL: $1

Wal-Mart $2.01

Aldi: $1.17

KETCHUP (24 oz., store brands)

SAL: 93 cents

Wal-Mart: $1.04 (pro-rated from a 36 oz. bottle for $1.56)

Aldi: 77 cents

CANNED VEGETABLES (14.5 oz., various varieties, store brands)

SAL: 49 cents

Wal-Mart: 63 cents

Aldi: 49 cents


SAL: $3.99

Wal-Mart: $4.77

Aldi: $2.49

ASSORTED PEPPERS (green, red, yellow)

SAL: $4.29 for 4 (2-green, 1 red, 1 yellow)

Wal-Mart: $5.01 (pro-rated price of $3.76 for three)

Aldi: $3.32 (pro-rated price of $2.49 for three)

CHICKEN BROTH (14.5 oz. can, 99% fat-free, store brands)

SAL: 86 cents

Wal-Mart: 86 cents

Aldi: $1.29

CORN FLAKES CEREAL (18 oz. box, store brands)

SAL: $1.48

Wal-Mart: $1.48

Aldi: $1.35

SKIM MILK (1 gallon, store brands)

SAL: $1.59

Wal-Mart: $2.42

Aldi: $1.89

SUGAR (4 lbs., granulated, store brands)

SAL: $2.19

Wal-Mart: $2.11 (pro-rated based on 5 lbs. for $2.64)

Aldi: $2.34 (pro-rated based on 5 lbs. for $2.93)

GROUND BEEF (73-27 fat content, per lb.)

SAL: $2.29

Wal-Mart: $2.22

Aldi: $1.79 (fat content of 80-20)


Save-A-Lot: $19.61

Wal-Mart: $23.43

Aldi: $17.59

Best, worst deals at dollar stores

Posted on July 13th, 2009 – 10:06 AM
By John Ewoldt

Now that dollar stores are “hot” again in this economy, someone needs to burst the bubble that all the deals at dollar stores are good ones. They’re not. The worst deals at dollar stores tend to be kids’ party favors and toys with small parts. Watch out for items such as bubble blowing liquid in containers that do not identify the liquid in case a child drinks it, said Consumer Reports. Other bad deals include electrical products such as extension cords and lamps with fake UL labels, medication including aspirin and other meds past expiration dates, vitamins, and kids jewelry that may contain lead, even though the items were recalled years ago. In my own price comparisons, I have found that facial tissue, plastic storage bags, brand name household cleaners and brand name bar soap can usually be found for less at discounters such as Target or Wal-Mart or clearance stores such as Brand Name Deals in Fridley.

The best deals, said Consumer Reports in its September issue of ShopSmart, are heavy duty aluminum foil, gift wrap (but not tissue paper), cotton rounds for removing makeup and party supplies such as gift bags, ribbon, greeting cards, decorations and balloons.

 Comparison shoppers, what best or worst deals have you found at dollar stores?

Why now might be the time to look at DirectBuy

Posted on July 9th, 2009 – 11:05 AM
By John Ewoldt

I have not been a fan of DirectBuy in the past, the company that lets its members buy thousands of items at cost. You may have seen its infomercials with members praising the company for savings $5,000, $10,000 and even more on furniture, kitchen cabinets, carpet and other purchases. The national company has locations in Bloomington and White Bear Lake. What has irked me about the company in the past is the lack of transparency. Only after sitting through a one-hour presentation do potential members learn that the enrollment fee is $4,500 (it may be as much as $5,000 but the Bloomington owner would not confirm it). And members have told me about other fees that you don’t hear about in the infomercials–a 6 percent handling fee and a 17 percent shipping fee on each purchase, as well as sales tax.

But recently, DirectBuy has started offering a 30 day trial membership  as well as shorter-term memberships. I have always recommended that anyone who is considering joining make a list of items to consider for purchase. Write down manufacturers and model numbers to compare in DirectBuy’s catalogs or website. In the past, members didn’t have 30 days to make these comparisons. This is more transparent way for new members to know if the large cash outlay will pay off and, in my opinion, it should have been done years ago.

DirectBuy is not a good deal unless a member plans to make many major purchases, such as remodeling a home or furnishing a new home. Without big purchases, members don’t recoup the original investment. I have never been a member and the owner of the Bloomington franchise refused to let me take advantage of the 30-day trial, but members have told me that DirectBuy’s price on carpet, for example, is slightly higher than Jack Rubenstein carpet wholesalers, which has no membership fee and is open to everyone.

To set up an appointment, call the Bloomington location at 952-835-0790 or the White Bear Lake franchise at 651-287-0050.

DirectBuy members, do you think you have gotten your money’s worth?

Is a fancy hot dog an oxymoron?

Posted on July 8th, 2009 – 1:45 PM
By John Ewoldt

An institution at the ballpark and the fair, the hot dog tastes like plain and simple Americana. Exotic, it’s not, no matter how fancy the mustard or relish. But today I got an email from iGourmet, the top notch specialty meat and cheese etailer in Pennsylvania. The company is selling a package of 16 dogs weighing a total of 3 pounds for $36. What’s exotic about the assortment is the meat. Four of the weiners are made from Canadian buffalo, four from Heritage pork, four from Pekin duck and four Angus beef.

All are uncured, fully cooked, skinless and made without artificial ingredients, antibiotics, growth hormones, nitrates or ’trites or preservatives.

A few local meat counters such as Lunds, Kowalski’s, Brothers or Kramarczuk’s sell bison or pork sausage/brats, but I could find no one selling a duck hot dog. According to igourmet, it’s the only duck dog on the market. Be the talk of the neighborhood grillout with your quacking dogs. Igourmet can also be reached at 1-877-igourmet.   

Neiman’s Last Call preview sale starts today

Posted on July 7th, 2009 – 3:55 PM
By John Ewoldt

The official first day of Neiman Marcus’ Last Call sale isn’t until July 15, but markdowns were taken today. Most of the items are now discounted 65 percent, except for Gift Gallery items marked down 50 percent. In the past, Neiman’s has occasionally taken an additional 30 percent off all clearance items, but that’s usually after the first markdown. Today’s was the 2nd markdown.

Will there be another markdown before the stuff leaves the store? In a normal economy, no, but in these times, there is a slight chance. If you don’t want to pay $200 for the Stephano Ricci crystal-embedded tuxedo tie after the discount (and who does?), you might want to watch for an additional markdown. I’m not exaggerating–I saw several tuxedo ties today priced more than $500 before the discount.

Did Neiman’s change or did I? Even at 65 percent off, it was difficult finding a shirt or pair of pants for less than $100 on clearance. Any other Neiman’s shoppers feeling you’ve been priced out of the store?